Why go on a retreat at all?
I go for renewal and to learn something new. I go expecting to be stretched and expanded so I can become more of who I really am.
It’s not improvement I seek; it’s more along the lines of shining a light into the corners of darkness that fill my mind from time to time.
Very much like Spring Cleaning, this is a time to refresh and reboot my internal operating system.
I’m going in for an upgrade!
Whether you work for another, you’re self-employed, or are retired, retreats are an invaluable way to invest in yourself and your life.
I’ve always been a “seeker of meaning”.
I went on a Vision Quest in Death Valley in the 90s. I spent three days and nights alone with no food, just water and a lean-to I had to build myself.
There were 10–12 others from all walks of life on that trip — a police chief from Ohio, a former nun from CA, a woman in her 70s, and a young man in his 20s.
I learned a lot about myself and about others on that trip.
My backpack was heavy. In addition to my sleeping bag, bedroll, tarp, rope, and knife, I had clothing, books, pencils, sketchbook, and three gallons of water to last me the three days.
On my first night alone in the desert, I was hungry and a little cold. Up until then the only days I’d ever “fasted” where when I had the flu — those days don’t count. I’d brought along three butterscotch candies just in case I got “too hungry” (how I thought three candies would help is beyond me!).
I came really close to eating them that first night as I tossed and turned on the desert floor. I was a little “panicky” until I realized this was a coyote moment for me.
Coyote is the Trickster in many Native American cultures. He was trying to trick me into giving up on myself, taunting me with hunger pangs and fears of losing my strength.
Once I realized my fears were my "coyote", I had a few sips of water and fell asleep. Temptation was gone and I proved to myself that I could last three days with just water out in the desert.
Another food-related insight came when I realized that if I were at home, I’d eat a sandwich rather than go for a walk, or draw, or read, or journal. That’s when I became aware that food can be used to distract us from the things we really want to do with our time.
On the third hot desert day, as I sat journaling in the “buff”, I heard a strange noise. It made no sense to me. I couldn’t place it, I had no idea what it was — until three fighter jets streaked across the sky right above me.
It was then I realized how distant I’d felt;
yet how close I still was to the world at large.
After our three days alone in the desert, all of the “questers” reconvened at base camp to share our experiences. Listening to everyone’s stories and telling my own, I realized that no matter who we are, what we do, or what we look like, we have more in common with one another than we have differences.
That was my first retreat; I’ve gone on several more since then. Each one is different and each one fuels me in different ways.
I expect this retreat will fill me up in new ways. I’m a little nervous as I pack. There might be a coyote moment ahead, and I expect to be stretched in new ways and to learn something new about my abilities. I’m going to reconfigure the path I’ve been on these past 17 years.
Please stay tuned for an update in the weeks ahead.